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The Slow, Painful Death of the Free Content Creator
It's happening as you read this
By 2007, YouTube had enabled anyone to film something on their phone, upload it, and view it on that same phone. This was a beautiful era of technology. No longer was entertainment controlled by large cable companies and corporations seeking profit. Content production had been given to the people. “Content creators” could pursue their passion and even monetize it.
But the monetization worked a little too well and over the past two decades, platforms promoting content creation have slowly let content take a backseat and put monetization in the driver’s seat—just like those large corporations creators have been trying to escape. As AI curates a content feed based on an algorithm to maximize monetization, it’s no longer about the freedom of content production. It’s back to being about who controls the money.
He who understands the algorithm controls the content
This great Note byquoting writing by (original quote by Alejandro González Iñárrituin) made me think about this:
It perfectly sums up the current state of content creation. What was once a promise of freedom for creators has turned into the problem it was meant to solve. Instead of creators focusing on their passion projects, they’ve become forced to algorithmically compete for money. We see the results of this battle on content platforms each day.
Twitter has become a competition for views, reposting whatever is trending thousands of times over instead of adding original ideas.
Medium articles are all about quick, easy ways to make money when the authors are actually making money by you clicking their article.
LinkedIn is only used to complain about the workplace and promote ridiculous methods to become a high earner.
And there are many more.
Algorithms aren’t bad; they’re just difficult
I’m not picking on YouTube because they’re the worst culprit of this issue. I’m mentioning them because this is a problem they are actively working on. Creator freedom is paramount for YouTube’s success and they show just how difficult it is to create an algorithm to properly promote it. If a thirty billion dollar company is still figuring it out, who can be expected to get it right?
A quick highlight: using machine learning algorithms to serve content isn’t bad or evil. I believe the sophistication of these algorithms is actually necessary to serve content in a way that is beneficial to all parties. I think the current failures to do so highlights just how much we don’t know about the effects of AI over the long term.
But maybe this isn’t an issue better algorithms can solve. Maybe it isn’t an issue with technology at all, but with our society. Isn’t it pretty sad that very few people can pursue their passion without feeling the need to monetize it? Trading all our time for money just to make a living leaves very little time to spend on passion projects.
As a content consumer, what can I do?
Understand how these algorithms work on you.
If you’re tired of the clickbait content in your feed, curate it yourself using RSS feeds.
Think about how content is monetized for your favorite creators and support them. This is one of the reasons I love Substack’s profit model.
Connect with me
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